Other People’s Wires

5:20 PM -- The let’s-send-data-over-electrical-wires crowd was present in full force at CES. I’ve tried many powerline-carrier products over the years and never had much luck -- data throughput was always a problem, and sometimes connectivity couldn’t be achieved at all. Well, sure, wireless isn’t perfect either, and recent advances in powerline carrier technology, pushing raw throughput to 200 Mbit/s and providing a mechanism for working around interference, present the opportunity for a new look.

I had several interesting conversations with powerline proponents on the show floor. The real fanatics always start with the wireless interference question -- with all of those .11 systems coming on line, at what point does interference become a problem, and what will we do about it? I’m just finishing up a series of Tech Notes on this subject summarizing a lot of time spent experimenting with the effects of interference, and I’ll have more for you on this shortly. But, CES being CES, it’s quite legitimate to ask if wireless applications involving large amounts of time-bounded traffic (that would be residential video distribution) will, in fact work.

And, as I noted, raw performance over powerline is improving. The trade association here is the HomePlug Powerline Alliance , and they have pushed raw throughput from the original 14 Mbit/s to the 85 Mbit/s Turbo version (can we please pass a law that prevents anyone from using the adjective “Turbo” unless the product in question does in fact contain a rotary impeller?) to the 200 Mbit/s AV version. I’ve not tested the AV stuff yet, but I will at some point. In the meantime, powerline can’t provide the mobility that wireless can, although I could see using it with big-screen TVs and any other power-hungry device that is stationary in operation. But I’m not ready to concede that powerline is better than wireless, interference or not, and, of course, me being me, it’s unlikely regardless.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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